THE Forest Council will “look at all options” of service delivery for the £9 million leisure and community centre at Five Acres once built.
Cllr Jamie Elsmore (Prog Ind, Berry Hill) proposed a motion to full council on Thursday (October 19) that a community interest company (CIC) be set up to manage the running of the facility going forward.
But the motion was amended following questioning to say the council would “look at all options of service delivery including the formation of a CIC”, which the Green cabinet claimed it is already doing.
The motion, proposed by Cllr Elsmore and seconded by Cllr Tim Gwilliam, follows the sudden closure of GL1 leisure centre and Oxstalls sports park in Gloucester last month after the trust that managed them on behalf of Gloucester City Council, Aspire, went into liquidation.
Leisure facilities in the Forest are currently managed by Freedom Leisure, itself a not-for-profit charitable leisure and cultural trust.
Cllr Elsmore said in the motion that setting up a CIC to run Five Acres would secure its long term future.
He explained that sports clubs already manage the use of the playing fields at Five Acres, and do “a brilliant job” with the support of West Dean Parish Council.
“When the leisure facility was active back in 2012, there was much of that facility that wasn’t fully utilised - for example the theatre which was regarded as the second best in Gloucestershire - because there was no expert behind it, pushing and promoting it”, Cllr Elsmore said.
“If we’ve got the right groups of people coming together as a collective, working in unison with council representatives, we believe this will maximise and secure the long term future of Five Acres.”
He added that community involvement would help encourage greater participation in the facilities and increase community resilience, aid the development of more effective ways of delivering services and bring about new funding streams including community fundraising.
But there was confusion amongst councillors as to whether the motion asked that the CIC be created, or that it be considered as an option.
Councillors asked how management by a CIC would work, including whether the council would remain “operator and owner of last resort”, or whether ownership of council assets would be transferred to those community organisations.
Cllr Gwilliam explained in response: “It can be set up anyway you like, it can be a leasehold arrangement, there are a myriad of different ways a CIC can be set up, and it can be done the way this council wishes it to be.”
He went on to explain the leader of the council may sit on a CIC and hold ultimate responsibility, but that Cllr Elsmore’s motion was about exploring other options and not just handing over responsibility to Freedom Leisure from the off.
But councillors argued the motion explicitly asked that a CIC be set up, and Cllr Elsmore made an amendment that it be explored as an option instead.
Councillor David Wheeler (Green, Newland & Sling) asked his Green colleagues: “Isn’t that what we’re already doing?”
Chief Finance Officer Andrew Knott then explained the council was in fact already conducting an investigation into service provisions for Five Acres.
But Cllr Nick Evans (Con, Tidenham) said he thought having a motion to do so was “a good thing to do” as the council “haven’t built it yet”, and decision making may change in the future.
Cllr Gwilliam summed up: “Jamie and I are in a special position because we’re in a ward that actually lost its facility.
“What we know from that very painful period is that we heard time and time again which Jamie mentioned, the theatre ‘wasn’t being utilised’, we were told by the people who were running it.
“It wasn’t being utilised because they weren’t interested in making it a good facility, in making it successful.
“Had it been run by the people who were using it - Forest of Dean Orchestra, the bands, theatre groups - that theatre would still be there today and would be a good business case.
“The cabinet - maybe even this cabinet, certainly in the next eight years - are going to have some serious discussions about our leisure provision.
“It isn’t just about the sport so we can’t just automatically sign everything over to Freedom - if there is a theatre who’s going to run it, who’s going to run the cafe?
“To make it successful you need people with a passion and people with knowledge. And that’s what this (motion) is about.”
The motion was passed with 30 votes for and one abstention.